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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Broadchuch: At last something we're not to blame for. by Elfin Mackenzie.

So there was an amazing twist at the end of Broadchurch after all: a journalist WASN'T the killer. Everything in the programme until that point had led me to believe that our profession would end up carrying the can for Danny's murder as well as all the other incidents of intrusion, fatal hounding, theft etc that our fictional colleagues were shown indulging in.
Broadchurch, as has widely been remarked, was unrealistic on any number of levels - in the last episode alone the physical and then verbal attack on the killer while under arrest must have had police custody sergeants everywhere shaking their heads in disbelief. And it was unfair in its portrayal of many professions - the paedophile news agent, coke-pushing seductress hotelier etc. But it really most consistently dumped on, perhaps unsurprisingly, journalists.
Following Leveson, who else is so ready-made vilified for villainy? This show trial saw the public drip-fed day after day of (largely unchallenged) smears against journalists - we burgled Hugh's flat, stuffed notes into JK's kids' rucksacks etc etc. The inquiry cherry-picked the worst examples of professional conduct over several decades, largely ignoring the normal, decent stuff. Many journalists will have felt that by the end of this they were left just a notch above child molesters in the public perception.
Well Broadchurch took us beyond that - in this setting, if anything, the journalists were more despicable than the child molesters..
Here the two paedophile characters were both given sympathetic back stories - one was guilty only by the merest technicality (a few more days and it'd have been legal - and anyway he loved her forever after in a true and admirable way); the other may have been a killer but it was sort of accidental and anyway he never 'did anything' to Danny or any other minor; he loved his son sincerely. They were, as paedophiles go, rather nice
In contrast to the sanitising of the paedophiles, the portrayal of journalism was anything but nice.
Karen White, the Daily Herald journalist (for me, openly a fictional Daily Mail), was the personification of heartless ambition. She stole a soft toy from the tributes to Danny, used a completely against PCC approach (which would have meant instant dismissal in real life) to his bereaved 15 year old sister as leverage to buy up the victim's family then misled that family as to what such a piece would involve. But was her vile behaviour really her fault when she was under such pressure from her grotesque editor at the Herald who bullied and threatened her - and rewrote her copy to make it misleading?
And supporting this ghastly pair were a pack of unnamed photographers and hacks who thought nothing of jostling a bereaved mother on her way into church, or of taking pictures through the windows of private residence at which a dead child's memorial service was being held. Leveson had to go back almost 30 years to hear even a hint of such conduct - and even then in a testimony I know many journalists found highly questionable. One friend of mine remarked after the 'papping the memorial' episode: "I worked at the sharp end of Fleet Street for 40 years, doing countless funerals and death knocks, and I have NEVER seen anyone behave like this."
Olly Stevens, the young local reporter, was Karen's willing accomplice. From his insensitive 'naming Danny' tweet in Episode One, putting professional ambition before family loyalty, he was depicted as insensitive and frequently stupid. But was it really any wonder - he was begot by a drug addict liar after all.
Olly and Karen sealed their gruesome-twosome status with the inevitable shag. Afterwards he made an incongruous and jarring joke about anal sex. Charming.
And, crucially, together Olly and Karen identified Jack Marshall as a possible suspect. In outing him as a (relatively wholesome) sex offender, they set in chain a media hounding - front pages of 'real' national newspapers were shown outing Jack - that would lead to him taking his own death. Would this really have happened? No. It is almost inconceivable that newspapers would even be able to identify his past in these circumstances and even if they could, would they really splash the previous conviction of someone not even identified as a suspect? Their lawyers wouldn't let them even if they wanted to.
The appearance that this was a credible portrayal of the real media at work was enhanced by cameos from ITN news reader Mark Austin. Did he read the script before he agreed to take part in such a stitch up of his own profession? I do hope not.
Jack's death was the worst of it. But the programme was riddled with absurd inaccuracies: the murder of an 11 year old boy on a tourist beach was not a a story of national interest until Karen's interview splash. Yeah right - no one would cover that. The local paper had apparently only two staff, a wily editor and a rookie reporter, which, even in these hard times, seems a bit light; there were no deadlines, ever. People filed when they felt like it, if they filed at all. Most implausibly of all perhaps was the direct phone call from the chief copper to Karen after he'd finally cracked the case. Try that in April 2013 and you'd find yourself getting dawn raided by your own colleagues for misconduct in a public office, dodgy ticker or no.
In fact during the whole series the only moment that rang remotely true was when the more senior hack persuaded the more junior to do all the work on a story for which she would get the byline; now that at least I could believe.
Earlier this month the actress who played Karen, Vicky McClure, was unveiled as an ambassador for a charity, the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, which campaigns to criminalise hate attacks on young people like Goths and Emos who are often harassed and assaulted by strangers. It's a cause with which I have a good deal of sympathy. I really do.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Hysteria around Lucy Meadows - An Alternative View

UPDATE: The anonymous tabloid hack behind the Lucy Meadows blog - who will henceforth be known by the pen name of Elfin MacKenzie - is in the process of compiling an article on TV's Broadchurch, which should be ready for publication sometime next week. Many thanks to those who - despite holding a less than complimentary view of tabloid newspapers - were prepared to tweet links to this blog so that the public could see both sides of the debate.

The following is a blog written by an anonymous national newspaper hack who - as you will learn from reading it to the end - has more insight than most into the events before, during, and after the tragic death of Lucy Meadows.

'There is a petition in circulation which has now had 180,000 signatures in just a few days. It's entitled: "The Daily Mail: Fire Richard Littlejohn for victimizing Lucy Meadows, possibly leading to her committing suicide.

"You've probably heard about it. Transgender teacher Lucy is widely reported to have killed herself last week after being harassed over Christmas and New Year last by a pack of press - and insulted and belittled by columnist Littlejohn. On Monday there was a vigil outside The Daily Mail's offices demanding his dismissal."

A blog published by The Guardian newspaper earlier this week (26/3) begins: 'Her emails show she was stalked by journalists: "I'm just glad they didn't realise I also have a back door. I was usually in school before the press arrived and stayed until late so I could avoid them going home" Parents were offered money for photos of her. It's a wonder she even got out of bed in the morning – I doubt I could.'

The original report into her death in The Guardian published last week begins: "Lucy Meadows became pretty good at avoiding the press. She slipped out of her back door before the paparazzi arrived and crept round to school long before lessons started, staying in the classroom way after hometime. But it was difficult, the primary school teacher told a friend via email in January, knowing there was a price on her head. "I know the press offered parents money if they could get a picture of me," she wrote on New Year's Day, just before she contacted the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), asking for journalists and photographers to stop hanging around outside her school and home"

(Incidentally The Guardian accompany their article with a photograph of Lucy's school taken by Cavendish Press - the very press agency that they allege were stalking her presumably taken at the very moment they were doorstepping her.)

The Independent's report referred to her being 'hounded' in its headline. "Transgender primary school teacher who 'took own life' had sought protection from media hounding before her death"

Even usually well-balanced influential blogger David Allen Green seemed not to even question the idea that she was hounded by the press. "At the moment we do not know how she died and, if it was the case that she took her own life, what the releveant circumstances were. But what we do know is that Lucy Meadows was monstered by tabloid newspapers when news emerged that she was transitioning from male to female. Suddenly she became...a figure in sensational news reporting."

And Hugh Grant and Alastair Campbell have used the case as yet another stick with which to beat the press, the former retweeting claims that Lucy was 'monstered' and the latter tweeting: "I hope journalists are doorstepping Dacre, Murdoch and Littlejohn for their reaction to Lucy Meadows' suicide."

Yet there are problems with all this assumption of 'monstering' and 'hounding'.

Firstly the dates. Having read a selection of the coverage above, over how long a period would you think Lucy was pursued by rabid packs of journalists and photographers? A week? Two weeks?

In fact the answer seems to be one day, at most two. The story broke via a local newspaper on Wednesday 19 December 2012 and was picked up to be published in a handful of regional and national newspapers - The Manchester Evening News, Metro, The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Daily Express, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Star - the following day. Most have exactly the same quotes which suggests they relied on the same agency report and did not send their own staff reporters to cover the story.

It was never, apart form the Littlejohn column the next day, Friday 21st, followed up anywhere - or ever returned to, until Lucy's death.

The school broke up on Friday 21st December - so the maximum number of days when Lucy could have been staying late and going through the back garden to get to and from work while avoiding pursuit was two.
And how many reporters or photographers were involved? A dozen? 20? More?

The news editor of a national newspapers who covered the initial story said: "It wasn't a very big story for us at all. We went out on it for one day only. The local agency, Cavendish, did too. From what I can establish the Mail didn't even send anyone. There was only a handful of people there for one day, two or three. I have no idea where the suggestion that parents were offered bribes for a picture comes from. It just doesn't ring true. We didn't ask anyone to do that and I'm sure no one else did. You'd just get in trouble."

And this suggestion is borne out by the cuttings: the coverage was typically not as high profile or as anti-Lucy as you may have been led to believe by The Guardian and Independent.

The Sun, for instance, carried the story only only page 35. It barely ran to 150 words and was relatively balanced in its view on whether parents were for or against the teacher's decision to come back in the January term as a woman.

Its parental reaction in full was as follows: 'Parents had a mixed reaction to the announcement. Dad-of-three Wayne Cowie, 35, said Nathan [Lucy's name before her announcement], who has taught at the school for four years, had been seen dressed as a woman while shopping in the town.

He added his son was now coming back from school "asking about transvestites. My lad is very confused and upset about it." But Rebecca Briggs, 33, who has two children at the school, said: "There are only three people who have complained. The rest of us fully support Mr Upton and his transition. All the children love him and will continue to do so when he is Miss Meadows.".'

Despite the widespread depiction of the Press Complaints Commission being toothless, in fact newspapers live in fear of having an adjudication made against them and almost invariably leave someone alone as soon as requested.

As the PCC website explains: "In cases where someone is in a particularly vulnerable state and does not wish to speak to a journalist, we can help by sending out a message to editors making clear that the person does not wish to speak, before any such approach is made.." In practice this process takes place in just a few hours. If Lucy had requested 'the dogs be called off', they would have been - that very day.
Finally there is the question of culpability, whether this alleged hounding and the comments by Richard Littlejohn, as the petition puts it, "possibly led to Lucy Meadows committing suicide."

The very underpinning premise of all of this - that Lucy was hounded into killing herself - would itself fall foul of the key media rules on reporting apparent suicides as per The Samaritans' media guidance. One clause here advises: "Avoid simplistic explanations for suicide....although a catalyst may appear to be obvious, suicide is never the result of a single factor or event and is likely to have several inter-related causes.

Accounts which try to explain a suicide on the basis of a single incident, for example unrequited romantic feelings, should be challenged."

I have investigated and written this as a defence of legitimate and lawful news gathering. I make no comment on Littlejohn. But like or loathe him - and from what I have read this week thousands of people want him not just sacked but dead - I think anyone who claims he caused Lucy's death is as guilty of wrong reporting as the very newspapers they hold in such contempt.

Post script: 20 minutes after I finished writing this I read that the inquest into Lucy's death, as is normal, had been opened and adjourned without hearing evidence. But one new fact which did emerge was that Lucy had attempted to take her own life at least twice before. Coroner Michael Singleton told the short hearing: “I understand there have been previous attempts to commit suicide. I don’t know if they are relevant or not.”

It remains to be seen if those attempts pre-date any publicity. I wonder if anyone from The Guardian or Independent will resign if they do.' By Elfin MacKenzie.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Tim Ireland Blog Removed

Due to a complaint from Jellyfish about the use of some of their pages on the blog which exposed how Tim Ireland was using the firm's resources to attack their own clients, Google has removed the post.

Suffice to say it will be put back up somewhere very soon - without the Jellyfish pages so as to not infringe their copyright.

Over and out.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Post Unavailable

In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed this post. If you wish, you can read more about the request at ChillingEffects.org.